Andrew Bird is probably the only musician who you can describe as a prolific tweeter and be talking about the old definition of “tweet.” It’s nearly impossible to write about the somber indie pop craftsman without mentioning his uncanny whistling skillz (so good they require the street spelling). But with the release of his new album Break It Yourself, we’ve witnessed the high (or low) point of whistle-based music writing. There’s simply nowhere to go from here. All the whistling metaphors, every Bird/bird comparison, they’ve all been exhausted. As South Park said, “The Simpsons already did it.” Only here, The Simpsons is every music writer everywhere (including this one … see above).
Sure, these stories on Bird may mention his looped string arrangements, delicate arpeggios or melancholic lyrics, but all that ink is just filler for writin’ ’bout whistlin’. It may seem like lazy writing, but then, he does sort of flaunt it. By our count, his trademark talent pops up on eight of his 14 new songs; if someone played a melodica as frequently as Bird whistles, we’d only be talking about that musician’s melodica. And we’re also fascinated by his ability to whistle so smoothly it sounds like ondes Martenot because unlike, say, the guitar, whistling is something everyone can do (but very few can do well). Thus, we can tangibly appreciate the difficulty of whistling in such a way that doesn’t elicit blind rage from those within earshot.
Anyway, we’re not here to judge the merits of whistling and whistle-based journalism. We’re simply shedding light on this Bird phenomenon. Here we’ve aggregated key quotes about the vanguard of Bird’s micro-genre “whistlewave,” broken up by five phases of his career.
1. Hey guys, check out this whistlin’ dude!
Here the indie world first realized Bird flaunted special whistling powers, so it became a race to mention it.
Album cycle: Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs (Released February 8, 2005)
2/8/05: “[Bird’s] whistling can’t be understated. He turns what could be an annoying sound, akin to yodeling, into a lilting, wondrous birdsong floating above the plains.” – Artist Direct
2/14/05: “Andrew Bird has a background in classical music, plays the violin, spends an inordinate amount of time whistling, and plays the glockenspiel…” – Pop Matters
11/9/05: “We have to ask, is Bird your real name? Or is it just a ploy to draw attention to your whistling skills?” – The L Magazine
2. The whistle secret is out
Bird was now an undeniable indie presence and probably started to realize he’d forever be known as “that whistler dude.”
Album cycle: Armchair Apocrypha (Released March 20, 2007)
3/16/07: “famed in the indie rock world for his whistling…” – Minnesota Public Radio
11/6/07: “Andrew Bird’s Whistle-Stop Tour: The whistling wizzard [sic] and MTV’s Spanking New Session star hits the road this week…” – MTV
10/6/08: “Andrew Bird Whistles Through the Financial Apocalypse” – Vulture
10/28/08: “…especially when AB gets into his Bird calling.” – Stereogum
3. The great whistle rift
Lines were drawn: you were either against Bird’s whistling or for it. Really, REALLY for it.
Album cycle: Noble Beast (Released January 20, 2009)
1/19/09: “While they’re certainly pleasant enough, chances are you won’t find yourself whistling along to these songs” – Pop Matters
1/20/09: “Andrew Bird Releases The Album Whistling Fans Have Been Waiting For” – Idolator
7/17/09: “Andrew Bird’s whistle could calm tense hostage situations. When Andrew Bird whistles, charging rhinos stop and hug. Ryan Seacrest realizes how obscenely overpaid he is and gives money to charity, children and talented people. That’s Andrew Bird’s power. It’s possible Andrew Bird’s whistling is The Matrix. His melodies dodge bullets. When he puts his lips together and blows, there is no spoon.” – OregonLive
10/7/09: “Andrew Bird’s whistling is the shining diamond embedded in the gold band of song he’s been developing…” – Charleston City Paper
4. Seriously, he’s not gonna stop doing it any time soon, deal with it
Most listeners came to accept the whistle as an undeniable part of Bird’s sonic identity.
Album cycle: Useless Creatures (Released 2010)
1/12/10: “If whistling were a martial art, consider Bird the Bruce Lee of the indie music craft.” – Spinner
8/9/11: “the man is also a master of the whistle, often producing beautiful, high-pitched melodies or strange, warbling, Theremin-like sounds with only the expulsion of air through his pursed lips.” – Reverb
12/15/11: “So Andrew Bird can whistle. You know who else can whistle? My friend’s grandpa. That drunk guy on Clark Street. Your CTA conductor. It’s not an easy task to whistle on key, and kudos to anyone who can make it sound better than my colossally pathetic attempts, but it’s too gimmicky for me to take seriously as a musical talent.” – RedEyeChicago
5. Each review is just a whistle epistle
By the time Break It Yourself came around, it was hard to tell if music writers were using whistling as a crutch in their reviews, or if Bird was using whistling as a crutch. Or both.
3/3/12: “License to Trill: Andrew Bird whistles while he works” – NY Post
3/5/12: “He also can demonstrate a weakness for grating whimsy and unnecessary gimmickry, best exemplified by his trademark whistling, a parlor trick that often ornaments his songs but almost never contributes to their success.” – Washington Post
3/6/12: “Very few rock dudes have mastered the human whistle like this man.” – Philadelphia Weekly
3/8/12: “That guy who likes to whistle on his songs is back with ’Break It Yourself.'” – Northwest Herald (Eds note: Our personal favorite of this list. So dry and detached.)
3/11/12: “Andrew Bird’s World Of Wit, Whimsy And Whistling” – NPR